A Drunken Aussie: When Alcohol and Travel Collide

A few days into a three-month Contiki trip across the U.S in 2000, it became clear that I was expected to drink. The tour group comprised mostly of Aussies travellers, and a handful of New Zealand and U.K travellers. Every time we arrived at the next town, there was the unspoken rule to go out partying and drinking. If I didn’t go, disappointment ensued from my fellow travellers. I was somehow ‘letting the team down’. I sensed that being an Aussie traveller who wasn’t drinking was an oddity.

There were a couple of reasons why I wasn’t drinking. I needed to save enough money to get me through a long-haul trip across the U.S and Canada with stopovers in San Francisco and Hawaii. Plus, I wanted to experience this trip of a lifetime with a fluid presence. I had to budget and manage myself accordingly. Some travellers who were partying every night ran out of money fast. When I say fast, I mean a few days into a half-month tour. These travellers were ringing home regularly to ask their parents to wire them money so they could keep going, or rather keep the party going.

I must admit that, on this trip, I did drink to excess; only once. Again, it was at a strategic money-saving moment. The tour group visited a naval base bar on a quiet weeknight in Jacksonville (?) where 85-cent beers were being served. As to be expected, I didn’t let the team down. I rode myself off, getting blind-drunk. Suffice to say, I struggled on the bus the next day while I nursed a nasty hangover. Still, 85 cents was in my budget but and the extent to which I could drink that night was excessive.

Australians, generally speaking, are known to drink and have a reputation to drink to excess regularly. It’s a part of the culture in Australia to drink. You can’t go anywhere in any city without walking into a pub on almost every major street corner. The physical environment thus mirrors the drinking culture. At some pubs, you can also find indoor play areas for kids to create a ‘family-friendly’ environment. Drinking to excess is regularly encouraged, if not expected, among families and peer groups. If you don’t, then you’re letting that team down; the family or friends down. It’s this team mentality that sees many Aussies drink to dangerous levels, whether they are alcoholic or not.

I lost track of the amount of times I frequented a pub while I was growing up. I saw the inside of a pub more times than I visited a library or a playground. I remember the countless camping trips with family, spending the quiet nights under the stars around a roaring fire while the adults drank.

Once I reached 18 (the legal drinking age in Australia) I, too, became more and more accustomed to drinking. Once I reached university, there were many nights spent out in clubs or pubs watching bands and drinking excessively. As some of my friends would say, ‘I can’t remember what happened, but I remember it was a good one!’ It was acceptable, and expected, to excessively drink. It was a way to bond and form new friendships. Once university ended, the drinking didn’t. Again, it was acceptable and expected to drink at work functions and, again, to bond with co-workers. If I had a bad day at work, I would rock up to a work function and drink more than I should have.

It was dangerously easy in Australia to fall into that trap of alcohol-fuelled expectation. When it comes to travel, an Aussie meets the expectation and the stereotype. For example, Aussies flock to south-east Asian countries regularly for holidays and the drinking accelerates. Bali is a particularly popular destination for Australian travellers, and there are parts such as Kuta and Seminyak where many Aussies stay, holiday and drink. Excessive drinking is also a regular occurrence because the alcohol is so cheap compared to back home.  On the other side of the coin, there are many countries around the world where drinking is not the norm, even illegal, for example in some parts of the Middle East. The travel dilemma for Aussie travellers who do drink is to decide whether they will drink and whether they will drink to excess. Deciding not to drink, for some Aussies, is out of the question.

While it’s up to the traveller whether or not they do drink, there is the decision around how much a traveller will drink needs to be considered as well. If you’re an Aussie traveller, it’s just assumed that you will drink. I choose not to. I choose not to because I want to be aware of my surroundings, aware of my experiences and be present for the sobering experiences that travel brings.

If you’re an Aussie who wants to drink while travelling, then drink. Who’s stopping you? (Apart from local laws, for example) What I would say is that you drink respectfully, in a way that you can experience the world with a more engaged awareness. Pick your moments with a level of respect for local custom and culture. Learn about the culture around you and slip into that culture, rather than enact your own drinking culture in another country where it’s not the norm. What many countries don’t need is another drunken Aussie traveller.

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